The Veterinary Ship Initiative is an outgrowth of the AQUAVETTM program and has as its goal development of a new class of seagoing vessels to be designated Veterinary Ships (V/S). The role of these vessels would be, broadly: to extend the practice of veterinary medicine to include the > 70% of earth's surface covered by water but in general not accessible from land-based hospitals; and specifically: the provision of specially equipped, oceangoing platform(s) needed to carry out the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease in marine animals, including advanced action to promote population recovery of threatened and endangered species, to restore marine ecosystems health, and to enhance marine animal welfare. Activities thereby to be made possible or facilitated include, but are not limited to 1) response to marine environmental disasters and incidents, in particular oil spills by rescue and decontamination of oil-fouled birds, pinnipeds, otters, and other sea life; 2) rescue, treatment and freeing of sea turtles, pinnipeds, cetaceans, and otters that become entangled in sport fishing lines, commercial fishing gear, and/or marine debris; 3) general pathobiological research on marine animals to advance basic knowledge of their diseases and to identify promising avenues for treatment; 4) specialized pathobiological research on those marine animals known to provide useful sentinels for toxicological and other hazards to human health; 5) rapid transfer by helicopter of technical experts in disentanglement of large whales to offshore sites not immediately accessible from land-based facilities; 6) rapid transfer by helicopter of diseased and injured marine animals to land-based veterinary hospitals; 7) coordination with U.S. Coast Guard's OCEAN STEWARD mission to reduce the burden on government in these areas and to implement more fully the policy of the United States promulgated by Executive Order 13547; and 8) evaluation of the safety of treatment modalities for marine animals, including in particular large balaenopterids, as proposed.1,2 The latter will have as its ultimate aim countering problems of climate change and ecosystems deterioration by therapeutic enhancement of the ecosystems services contributed by now depleted populations of earth's largest and most powerful mammals.1,2 Pending demonstration of safety, the corresponding purpose of veterinary ships will be offshore deployment of fast boats and expert personnel for the treatment of a known endemic parasitic disease threatening the health and population recovery of certain large balaenopterids.
Acknowledgements and Disclaimer
Elements of this initiative arose on account of a fellowship awarded to the author by the Committee on the Challenges of Modern Society, Division of Scientific Affairs, North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Views expressed are his and do not necessarily represent views of the Committee, NATO member countries, or any other entity. Additional funding was provided by the Institute of Experimental Pathology, University of Iceland and Florida Sea Grant.
* Presenting author
1. Lambertsen RH. Amplifying the recovery rates of endangered baleen whales: the rationale for veterinary intervention. In: The IAAAM 22nd Annual Conference Proceedings. St. Augustine, FL; 1991:84–86.
2. Lambertsen RH. Crassicaudosis: a parasitic disease threatening the health and population recovery of large baleen whales. In: Artois M, ed. health and management of free-ranging mammals - part one. Revue Scientifique et Technique, Office International des Epizooties. 1992;11:1131–1141.